December 16, 2014 / 4:18 PM / 3 years ago

Turkey's Erdogan to start chairing cabinet meetings, extending power

ANKARA (Reuters) - Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan will begin chairing cabinet meetings in January, senior officials told Reuters on Tuesday, extending his power as head of state even without the full presidential system he has long coveted.

Turkey's President Tayyip Erdogan addresses to media at the presidential palace during the visit of Pope Francis (not pictured) in Ankara November 28, 2014. REUTERS/Umit Bektas

Erdogan, who dominated politics for more than a decade as prime minister, became Turkey’s first directly elected president in August and has vowed to wield far greater influence than predecessors, who took a largely ceremonial role.

The cabinet is expected to convene in January with Erdogan chairing it for the first time, two senior officials told Reuters, although it was unclear how often he would do this.

“This authority is given by the constitution, but because it has not been exercised (before), we will see together what the framework of his chairmanship will be,” one of the officials from Erdogan’s office said.

The Turkish leader has made no secret of his desire to change the constitution to introduce a presidential system, a move that would be made easier if the ruling AK Party wins a large enough majority in parliamentary elections next June.

Opponents fear his authoritarian tendencies, which they say were highlighted by the October inauguration of a lavish 1,150-room presidential palace on the outskirts of the capital, would become even more pronounced if he had presidential powers without a parliament strong enough to rein him in.

Erdogan has made clear he believes that the direct nature of August’s vote - in which he won 52 percent - enables him to exercise stronger powers even without changing the constitution, maintaining his presence at the heart of Turkish politics.

The officials said he planned to establish a “mini cabinet” of advisers within the presidency, likely to include ministers due to step down after the June election because of a three-term limit for ruling party deputies.

The presidency will also be restructured, expanding its departments from four to more than 10, covering sectors such as energy, foreign policy, internal affairs, investments, press and security, the official in his office said.

Senior officials told Reuters in June that, if elected, he would establish a “council of wise men” to help him oversee government business, effectively relegating some ministries to technical and bureaucratic roles.

Writing by Jonny Hogg; Editing by Nick Tattersall and Dominic Evans

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